Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Coming Dawn (3/15/15)

The Coming Dawn
John Shuck

Southminster Presbyterian Church
Beaverton, Oregon

Sri Aurobindo            
It is in effect a larger cosmic vision, a realizing of the godhead in the world and in man, of his divine possibilities as well of the greatness of the power that manifests in what he is, a spiritualized uplifting of his thought and feeling and sense and action, a more developed psychic mind and heart, a truer and a deeper insight into his nature and the meaning of the world, a calling of diviner potentialities and more spiritual values in the intention and structure of this life that is the call upon humanity, the prospect offered to it by the slowly unfolding and now more clearly disclosed Self of the universe.  The nations that most include and make real these things in their life and culture are the nations of the coming dawn and the poets of whatever tongue and race who most completely see with this vision and speak with the inspiration of its utterance are those who shall be the creators of the poetry of the future.

Psalm 30:4-5
 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
   and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
   his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning.

This week we say goodbye to Old Man Winter.  A new season is upon us.   The shadowy greys are giving way to vibrant colors of Spring.    We are also saying goodbye to our reflection on the spiritual path of the via creativa, the way of creativity and imagination.    I want to take some time with the four paths.

Creation Spirituality describes a four-fold spiritual path.  There is nothing spooky or weird about it despite the odd Latin phrases.   Via simply means path and the four paths reflect our engagement with this life.  

The first path is the via positiva.  This path calls us to be attentive to the blessedness of creation.   We wake in the morning and the alarm goes off.  We grumble and turn over in our bed and feel the pain in our lower back.   We hear the garbage truck and realize we forgot to take out the trash.   Then our minds begin to fill with other things we forgot and we need to do and the day begins. 

The via positiva reminds us to marvel at the fact that alarms, beds, backs, garbage trucks and to do lists exist at all.  It is simply wildly amazing that we are here.   What is this that we feel, smell, see, hear, and taste?  What are these things that are thoughts?   What am I to be conscious about it?   Cherry blossoms really are beautiful, aren’t they?   The via positiva is the invitation, yes, even the discipline, the practice of being amazed that Life Is.   It is being attentive to Being in all of its splendor and detail.

Emily Dickenson said the only commandment of Jesus that she could be sure to keep was this one:  Consider the birds.”   She could do that.  She could be attentive, amazed and enthralled by birds.    The via positiva.     

If we are going to do any good for our species and for Earth, we must have a healthy, active and practicing via positiva.     Spend a few moments each day and be amazed.    Fyodor Doestoyevsky, for whom we named one of our dogs penned this in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov:

“Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”

The via positiva is an exuberant love for life, for others, for self.  One of my favorite hymns is in the Unitarian hymnal.   It expresses the via positiva:

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer “Yes” to life. 

Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, wanted to imagine the first self-conscious thought.  When did self-consciousness arise?  I don’t know.   Maybe hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps even a million years ago, at some time deep in our past, one of our ancestors had the first self-conscious thought.   Campbell imagined it to be this:

I am. 

It was an awareness of existence, of a self of an “I.”   The via positiva.  Wow!  I am! 

Then quickly following the first self-conscious thought was the second:

One day I will not be.

That second self-conscious thought was painful.  It was accompanied by anxiety, despair, and frantic clinging and grasping.   Campbell suggests that religion with its various theories of afterlife was an attempt to keep the “I am” going forever.    I used to think that, but I think now that religion is much more complex.   While aspects of it are attempts to avoid the via negativa by filling people with fantasies, religion also helps us come to terms with the pain of loss by being attentive to it. 

The recognition that I will not be and the recognition that all that we have loved through the via positiva will one day be gone is the via negativa.    The via negativa does not necessarily lead to clinging and grasping.   It does need a healthy attentiveness.   We pay attention to the grief and to the pain of loss.   That grief and pain is proportional to the love we have for what is lost.  

To avoid pain, we may try not to love or we may try to distract our pain by engaging in all kinds of busy-ness.  That is understandable.   There is no need to judge ourselves or others by trying to mitigate the pain of loss.   

But a healthy via negativa invites us to be present to this pain of loss.    The via negativa is the acceptance that nothing is permanent.    The via negativa is the practice of letting go and letting be.     We know better than to think that is easy, smooth, or dignified.  It is messy, emotional and rough.  It is as real as rain. 

If we follow Doystoevsky’s advice to “love all creation, both the whole and every grain of sand,” if we “Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing,” then we will know pain when those things we love are no more.   

The choice we have as individuals, as communities, and as a species is whether to love or not.   Maybe we should detach and not care so much.  Less pain that way.    That is certainly an option.  But Creation Spirituality says, “Be all in.”    In the words of my favorite Unitarian hymn:

Just as long as I have breath,
I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
Though with pain I made my way,
still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well,
Tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

Be all in.  Be all in with creation.  Be present with the loss.  

But there are two more paths.  

When a star dies, its nuclear reactions come to an end quickly.   The gravitational forces collapse the star in on itself and it explodes sending its energy and matter throughout space.   It goes supernova. 

A supernova is a stellar explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, radiating as much energy as the Sun or any ordinary star is expected to emit over its entire life span, before fading from view over several weeks or months.

From the dust of the exploding stars new stars and new planets are formed.    This is how our own sun and Earth were formed.   A star gave its life that we might be born.    

The Gospel of John quotes Jesus:

“I swear to God, unless the kernel of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains a single seed; but if it dies, it produces a great harvest.” 12:24

Creativity is the very nature of the universe or theologically speaking, the very nature of God.    Creativity is response to loss. 

I, like many of you, feel the despair of our situation on this planet.   Everyday we learn more and more about these perilous times.

I was despairing about this several years ago.  Deeply despairing when I felt the impact of industrial civilization’s coming descent.   Peak Oil, climate change, water shortages, population overshoot, acidity in the oceans, you name it.   Things look grim.   Our fossil fuel party has entered the downslope of the bell curve and all of our institutions are feeling it.   It is via negativa on a big scale.  

I wrote about it a lot on my blog over the years, trying to come to terms with it.   I was filled with anxiety.  What should I do?  What could I do?   What should we do?  What could we do?  But it is too big.  Too overwhelming. 

Then I was reminded of creativity.    I found this quote from Matthew Fox that I found comforting.  Fox wrote:

Some of my hope comes from the realization, growing daily, of how perilous our situation is on this planet.  As more and more people get out of denial and the addictions denial puts us in and come to realize the danger that our unsustainable species is in, there will be action and there will be grounds for hope.  This sounds paradoxical, and it is:  Our very despair is a cause for hope, for despair often results in breakdown and breakdown results in breakthrough.

That is Matthew Fox from his book, Creativity:  Where the Divine and Human Meet.   As I thought about that quote, I realized that I, too, am hopeful.    Hopeful and curious.  I wonder how creativity will respond to this situation.  

Life will be very different in 100 years, even 50 years, maybe less than that.   Part of me wants to hang around for another 200 years to see how humanity makes it through this cliffhanger.   

Stars explode.  From the dust new stars.

Plants die and their seeds sprout new plants.

Civilizations collapse and new civilizations emerge from their ruins.

Everything dies but from its remains are the materials and energy for new life.

Things change but creativity continues.    The via creativa, is not just being creative.  It is that.  It is tapping into, nurturing, tending our own creativity.  It is also being present to creativity, trusting it, noticing it, celebrating it, hoping in it.  

The via creativa is the spiritual path that pays attention to creativity, to our own, to that of others, and to that of Earth and creation itself.   Creativity is possibility beyond our predicting and beyond our expectation and beyond our calculation.   Creativity cannot be forced.  It appears.   We are more likely to see it when we pay attention.

The via creativa is trusting that we have no idea what is to come, yet we trust anyway.  It is dark but we walk anyway.    We don’t know what to do, but we show up anyway.  99% of life is suiting up and showing up.  I don’t know what the other 1% is.  

It is in response to the death of my son that I think that way now.  I realized that for me, the most I could do and be was to be present for whatever is or will be.    And to feel it.  The joy of creation and the pain of its loss.   And then, just show up and see what creativity does.    

I found that the via creativa helped me realize that I am more resilient than I thought I was or thought I could be.    The human species is resilient and we are nothing if not creative.   

The fourth path that we will begin to explore next week is the via tranformativa, the New Creation.   This is the path of action and of directing our creativity toward compassion, justice, and sustainability.  

It is the promise of “the coming dawn” as Sri Aurobindo writes in his book, The Future of Poetry.    The psalmist calls it “joy in the morning.”    We are participating in this New Creation even now. 

This path of New Creation, of creativity in service of compassion requires heart.  In Latin, cor means heart.  From it we get the word courage.   Courage and compassion are from the heart.     Big heart.   Available heart.    It is not being fearless.  It is feeling the fear and showing up anyway. 

Just as long as I have breath,
I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
Though with pain I made my way,
still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well,
Tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

OK.  A poem.   By Edna St. Vincent Millay.  It is called

The courage that my mother had

The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.

The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing  I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.

Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!—
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

Well, maybe we do. 
Maybe we do have that courage our mothers and grandmothers possessed after all. 
We might be surprised.


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